Czech Republic ready to assist Middle-East peace process during EU presidency

Photo: CTK

On Saturday, Israel launched one of the most violent attacks against Palestinians in the history of the Middle East conflict. The Israeli blitz, unleashed in retaliation for ongoing rocket and mortar fire from Gaza, is said to have killed over 300 Palestinians and wounded more than 1,400 others. In view of its upcoming EU presidency, helping to find a solution to the drawn out Middle East conflict has become one of the Czech Republic’s priorities.

Photo: CTK
As news of the violence spread, the Czech Republic joined the international community in calling for a ceasefire, but at the same time, the Czech foreign minister, Karel Schwarzenberg, said Israel was entitled to take action in defense of its settlements. Zuzana Opletalová is the Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman.

“According to our minister Israel has the right to take military action in defense of locations where its civilians live. Hamas does not act as a partner and no political dialogue is possible unless Hamas stops its attacks against Israeli settlements. On the other hand, it is unfortunate that the living conditions in the Gaza Strip are so bad. These conditions need to be changed in such as way that they will not make young people join radical organizations. However, political negotiations can only take place after a ceasefire is renewed.”

Will the Czech Republic seek a more active role in helping to mediate the conflict when it takes up the EU presidency on January 1st?

Photo: CTK
“At the moment the EU presidency is still in the hands of France and we are monitoring the situation. Minister Schwarzenberg is in touch with his French and other European colleagues and also with his partners in Israel and Palestine. We cannot say now what concrete steps will be taken –that depends on how the situation will develop. Our role will be to hold a debate within the EU and help mould its common position and actions.”

The Czech prime minister, Mirek Topolánek, said during a visit to Israel earlier this year that he would welcome a more active role by the EU in the Middle East peace process and the Czech government has offered to organize not only an EU-Israeli summit during its EU presidency but also a summit between the EU and Palestine. Czech MEP for the Communist Party Miloslav Ransdorf says that while both sides can offer justification for their actions, Israel and Palestine must be brought to the negotiating table and motivated to cooperate.

“Both sides of the conflict have reasons for their actions. Israel has the right to guarantee its security and the Palestinians also have their rights as citizens of the new Palestinian state.”

But in that case is there any chance of reaching a peaceful settlement?

“Yes, there is – through the building of trust. It may last many years but we have to start now in the midst of this crisis. We can find common interests uniting both communities. Both sides are suffering – both the people in the Gaza Strip and the Israeli inhabitants neighbouring on the Gaza Strip are in danger and I hope that the Czech EU presidency can contribute to restoring peace in this area because we have very close links to both sides of the conflict – to the Arab population and also to the state of Israel because Czechoslovakia’s help in the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948 was very important. Czechoslovak deliveries of weapons had a vital importance for Israel’s self defense at this time.”

And what kind of action do you have in mind Mr. Ransdorf?

“There is an agreement between the EU and Israel – an agreement that has been put on ice in the European Parliament but that will be discussed during the Czech EU presidency- that Israel would like to see signed. It contains an obligation for Israel to respect the Copenhagen criteria on international standards of human rights. This obligation is the number one condition for the agreement to be signed. And in the case of Palestine – Palestine is economically dependant on international aid. Its budget is 1.6 billion and only 0,1 is produced by Palestine itself. The rest is covered by the international community -1.5 billion. So there are motivating factors for both sides.”